It is one of the key tools we will be using over the next few years to help increase the number of kiwi at kōhanga sites. By breeding more kiwi chicks and placing them in secure, predator-free sites (usually islands, or fenced), we’re giving them the best opportunity to find a mate and produce their own chicks. These chicks can then be moved to safe kiwi habitat when they’re big enough, increasing wild kiwi populations and restoring their former range of distribution.
Who is doing it?
Operation Nest Egg, partially funded by Kiwis for kiwi, combines the efforts of the Department of Conservation (DOC), community kiwi conservation groups, iwi, researchers and captive rearing facilities.
Captive rearing facilities in the North and South Islands include: Auckland Zoo, Kiwi Encounter at Rainbow Springs in Rotorua, the Whangarei Native Bird Rescue Centre, Willowbank Wildlife reserve in Christchurch, Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre and the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef/Waiau.
Most chicks on the North Island are hatched at Kiwi Encounter and Auckland Zoo. West Coast Wildlife Centre focuses mainly on New Zealand’s two most endangered kiwi species— Ōkārito’s rowi and the Haast tokoeka.
Because kiwi hold a special place in Māori culture, and to recognise the important relationship between living things and the land on which they were born, there is often a ceremony by mana whenua (local people) to welcome the young kiwi back to the place of their birth.
The idea for Operation Nest Egg hatched in 1994, when researchers noticed that almost all kiwi chicks were killed by stoats, but adult kiwi were not.
An existing technique was adapted by developing specific skills to collect, transport and incubate kiwi eggs, and keep young chicks alive in captivity. The early trials were with brown kiwi—with only 5% of wild-hatched chicks surviving to adulthood, there was not much to lose.
Operation Nest Egg has been very successful over the past few years, with chick survival rates reaching over 99%. This means it will play an important part in meeting our target of increasing kiwi populations by 2% per year.
New Operation Nest Egg programmes will be initiated, mainly in areas where kiwi are currently unmanaged. The chicks from these programmes will be released into kōhanga kiwi sites, where they will contribute to population growth. Once those sites reach capacity for the number of kiwi they can hold, young kiwi will be captured and relocated back to predator-controlled areas in the wild.
Operation Nest Egg best practice manual, published 2012 can be found here
How you can help
To support kiwi conservation projects including those involved in Operation Nest Egg, please make a donation here.